Preserving a Traditional Japanese House and an Enormous 250-year-old Ako Tree in Goto, Nagasaki
Protecting the island’s great and mysterious Ako Tree,and creating a “Global Guesthouse” where visitors and islanders can come together
Introduction – About this project
Hello, my name is Aaron Nicholas Sutton. I live with my wife and two daughters on a remote island called Fukue Island in the “Goto” archipelago, Nagasaki Prefecture. Over the last 65 years, the population of Goto City has fallen from 90,000 to about 35,000 (spread out across various islands). The pace of life is slower and the people are incredibly kind. Our small neighborhood is called “Ohama” and it’s just a few minutes by car to my wife’s childhood home.
In “Ohama,” there is an enormous 250-year-old “Ako tree” that has watched over the community for generations. However, due to a depopulation problem that is felt acutely throughout rural Japan, the owner of this tree left the island. The tree sat quietly for about 12 years without much fuss or notice. A kind lady in her 70s living in the house next door, would sweep away the endless piles of leaves that would accumulate along the road under the tree. She would later tell me that she was thankful for the huge tree as its massive branches protected her home from the yearly typhoons. Sweeping away leaves was “the least I can do” to say thank you.
But, after 12 years of relative calm under this tree, I was on my way home for lunch and walked along the path under this Ako Tree. There were trucks and heavy machinery at work. Limb by limb, the tree was being cut down, ripped down, actually. I was shocked. I had walked under this tree on my way to work for 4 years. I immediately asked the workers in Japanese what they were doing and how much they were planning to cut down. They said… “All of it… to the roots”
I was shocked. I’ll go into more details later on this page, but for now, let’s just say that I talked, pleaded, and negotiated. In the end, I used my savings to buy this beautiful Ako tree. To buy the tree, I had to buy the surrounding land and an old house that was also awaiting demolition.
Maybe it sounds strange, but I have strong feelings about this tree. I couldn’t help but think that perhaps this tree had called me, just hours after workers had started cutting it down. I simply answered that call… just in time. I didn’t realize until much later what saving this tree would mean. At that time, it was just an impulse. But stopping these workers from cutting down this Ako Tree was the first step in a meandering stream of new encounters and challenges that brought me to this crowdfunding page.
Rather than demolish the old house on the property, I decided to renovate it. A mysterious tree in front of our beloved Ohama fishing port and beautiful sea. I knew that there is great potential for Ohama. So, I’m creating a “Global Guest House” where people can experience the wonderful nature of Goto as well as learn languages, and gain more global perspectives on this remote island.
I would be happy if you would consider supporting my dream. By doing so, we can revitalize this traditional Japanese house, preserve the beautiful nature and revitalize my small community. Please continue if you’d like to learn more about my story.
My name is Nicholas, a foreigner on a remote Japanese island.
I am originally from California, U.S.A. I’ve lived in Japan for 12 years. Before moving to Goto, I worked as the coordinator of language school on a 1000-passenger ship called the “Peace Boat,” a boat promoting peace, human rights and sustainability. I traveled around the globe 6 times and could enjoy diverse and breaktaking natural landscapes in all areas of the globe. I’ve always loved spending time in nature.
During my travels around the world, I met my Japanese wife, who was born on Fukue Island, Goto. After visiting this island, I felt so moved by the beauty of nature and people that we decided to leave Tokyo and start a new life here.Having studied education through graduate school, I started working as an English teacher and later joined the Goto City Board of Education in hopes of improving English education on this island..
We want to provide an “Island Experience + Global Learning”
When I moved to Gotō, I was led by a mysterious fate to encounter a large Ako tree in the neighborhood near my new home. Although it had been here for 100s of years and the “Ako Tree” is a type of symbol of this island, it was about to be cut down. I am trying to protect the large AKO tree and, at the same time, revitalize the old house to create “AKO HOUSE,” a guest house where people can “experience the island’s nature and engage in global learning.
Gotō is surrounded by crystal blue sea and nature. There are also many delicious foods. In such an environment, what if everyone, from children to the elderly, could enjoy learning English and communicating with people from around the world. With my background and passion for education, I’m starting my own “Island Study Abroad” program where people can immerse themselves in both island life and improve their English ability with lessons and english activities.
We offer English conversation lessons by experienced teachers in a fun and engaging way. We already have nature activities such as SUP, kayaking, hiking, etc.
株式会社 AKO international（令和4年5月16日設立）
AKO international Corporation (established on May 16, 2022)
251 odomari-cho, Goto City, Nagasaki
Representative: Aaron Nicholas Sutton
English language school, summer English camps for children, guesthouse management, marine sports activities, training seminars and other consulting services, planning, drafting and implementation of international exchange projects (translation and interpretation, guides for visitors, etc.)
Number of employees 3
About your support
The old Japanese-style house that had to be purchased in order to protect the large Ako tree is quite big, with a floor area of approximately 200 square meters. This new guest house facility can accommodate up to 15 people so we can hold Summer English camps for children from throughout Japan. Of course, this large renovation requires a lot of funding.
We are trying to realize this old house with our own funds, loans from banks, and a subsidy from Goto City, but we haven’t reached the amount necessary to make our dream come true. We have decided to start this crowdfunding project so that we can make this project a reality, increase the vitality of the community, and make it a place where all types of people can come together.
Guided by a mysterious 250-year-old tree that was about to be cut down
This project began with a fateful encounter with a big AKO tree. It is a personal matter, but I feel it is the beginning of a story that will one day make many people happy, so please allow me to tell you a little more about how it all started.
The great Ako tree is located on the side of a stone-walled path, a two-minute walk from my house in Gotō. The tree is estimated to be 250 years old. It is huge, and the spread of its many branches and the new roots growing from the branches into the ground are spectacular. It is truly a tree that evokes the power of life. I feel that it is truly a power spot in Ohama.
On December 18, 2020, I was walking home on my lunch break after an English conversation class. Just as I passed under the Ako tree, I heard the sound of construction work being done. I looked and saw that they were cutting the large branches of the majestic Ako Tree one by one with an excavator machine. I was shocked. I rushed to talk to the 3 workers. They told me that they had been asked by the owner of the land to cut down the tree and clear the land.
“wait… wait …. Wait.. you need to stop” I said. I immediately talked to the old lady who lives next door to the Ako tree. She told me that the tree had been protecting her house from typhoons ever since she can remember. Other neighbors in their 70s and 80s told me stories about how they used to climb this massive tree when they were children.
I got the phone number of the real estate agent and I was able to make contact with the owner. The owner had moved away and had no plans to return to Gotō in the future. Without any ability to manage the house, the land, and the Ako tree, the owner already signed a contract with a demolition company. After several phone calls, I was simply told that “it was already too late to do anything.” I tried again. I was told again… “it’s too late.”
I couldn’t sleep well that night. The next day, I still couldn’t accept that this tree was going to be chopped down. I wanted to talk directly with the president of this demolition company. The workers on site had agreed to stop demolishing the tree and focus on the olds sheds for the next few days. I asked one of the workers if they could arrange for me to meet with the president of their company.
The president agreed to meet and he ended up being an incredibly kind person who understood the value of this Ako tree. He too believed it was unfortunate to cut down such a rare tree. Even though he had already signed a contract with the owner, he said that if I was willing to buy this tree, he would renegotiate the contract and essentially return this money to the owner. For two days in a row, I was shocked. This time by the kindness of the company’s president who, after a few seconds of reflection, was willing to cancel a contract and return thousands of dollars that he had a right to collect.
Thus, I contacted the owner again. “I’d like to buy your tree”. I signed a contract to buy the plot of land that the tree was on. It included an old house that was scheduled to be demolished. It was an impulse purchase, and later I worried about money, but I had a gut feeling that it was the right thing to do. At the time, I didn’t even know if the house could be used. If I had not passed by the path of the Ako tree that day and at that moment, this tree would no longer exist. When I think about it, I feel that I have a mysterious connection with it.
We hope to expand connections with the Ako Tree
The story of a “strange foreigner” who bought a tree spread quickly. The Ako Tree was featured on NHK evening Nagasaki news and in two different newspapers. I felt uplifted by the many kind messages of people who had memories of the tree or promised to come and visit it. I had a dream to create a nice environment around this tree where visitors, islanders, and the community. But what can I offer?
It became my dream to create a global guesthouse called AKO HOUSE where we can welcome visitors interested in international exchange, nature, and languages. I’ve spent most of my life working in the field of education so I was confident about the education part, but I wasn’t quite sure I knew what to do when it came to starting a guest house. However, fate (or the Ako Tree) gave me a chance to meet Mr. Nishiura, a new resident in Goto who has been in the hotel industry for 25 years. After sharing my story, he enthusiastically agreed to join me.
Mr. Nishiura has traveled as a backpacker to more than 100 countries around the world and has spent most of his life in guesthouses and hotels as both a traveler and manager. Thanks to his extensive knowledge in the hotel industry and kind personality, I’m more confident than ever that we’ll create a great environment.
Revitalizing an old Japanese-style house
We started cleaning up the house on a budget. Thanks to the newspaper articles, friends and Goto locals helped remove rotten flooring/ceiling (from the leaky roof) and dispose of the trash. Adding it all up, about 100 days worth of volunteers came to help. We took about 20 trips to the local dump and recycle shop to dispose of everything. Since then, the renovation and our new guesthouse has been progressing steadily.
What we’ll do with your support
We will restore the old Japanese-style house and make a guesthouse called “AKO HOUSE”. We will also protect the large Ako tree on the property and make this “power spot” into the symbol of our neighborhood, creating a community where travelers and local people can gather together under one large tree.
We will encourage our visitors to develop a deeper relationship with the wonderful nature of the island, and at the same time, we will provide English-related activities and lessons to help students (and each other) gain a more global perspective. Surrounded by nature in a comfortable traditional house, we think we can make an environment where people from all backgrounds can enjoy communicating and learning.
By spending time at the Ako House, I hope our visitors will develop a greater love of nature, an interest in different cultures, and an international outlook. That is why, somehow, I was attracted to the land of Gotō, moved there, somehow met a big Ako Tree, and somehow managed to say, “Don’t cut down the tree! I’ll buy it!” I believe that this is the best dream that I can offer to Goto and my community in Ohama.
We hope that you will support Ako House and this dream by donating and sharing on social media. Of course, your donation would really mean a lot to us. Of course, I hope that one day I’ll be able to say thank you in person under the Ako Tree.
Thank you for reading to the end.
251, Odomari-cho, Nagasaki
Capacity of 15 people in 4 rooms (one room is 6-person dormitory)
Average price is 6,000 yen per person
Open from 9:00 to 18:00
Scheduled to open in June 2023
As many of you may know, renovating an old house is quite expensive. The estimated cost for this project is 25 million yen ($190,000 USD). After an extensive application process, Ako House was selected to receive a subsidy from Goto City. We were awarded a 12 million-yen ($90,000 USD) subsidy on the conditions that we can guarantee the consistent employment of two staff members.
Up until now, my family has covered the remaining expenses. To keep our budget as low as possible, we’ve enlisted the help of our parents, siblings, neighbors, and volunteers. However, in the end, we aren’t going to be able to reach our goal without your help. Therefore, through this crowdfunding campaign, we would like to ask for the cooperation of those who share our desire. We would appreciate your cooperation in spreading the word and promoting the project. We’ll use the funds raised as follows.
Total Cost：25 million yen
⦁ Renovation Costs: ¥16.5 million ($190,000)
⦁ Furniture, appliances, equipment: ¥3.3 million ($125,000)
⦁ Exterior construction (walls, wood deck, etc): ¥3.2 million yen($24,500)
⦁ Parking area ¥1 million ($7,750)
⦁ Water pipes/etc. ¥1 million ($7,750)
【Our Crowdfunding Goal】
100万円 ($ 7,750 USD)
Subsidy of 12 million yen ($90,000 USD) will be provided as part of a program for the “Promotion of Specified Remote Border Island Communities and the of Expansion of Employment Opportunities.” The remaining 13 million yen will be paid through personal savings, new loans from the bank, and this crowdfunding project.
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- Bank transfer (see below)
- paypal —> email@example.com
- Cash donations, please send me a message.
LINE ID: nicho1217
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